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Copyright: Digital Controversy Reaches Boiling Point

Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Press release from the issuing company

Washington, March 23, 2001 -- According to MPA,on March 28, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Tasini v. New York Times, et al, the pivotal copyright case that will go far toward determining a publisher's right to make works available in digital format. The case has been in litigation for the past seven years, with magazine and newspaper publishers arguing that they have the right under U.S. copyright law to make their works available through digital archives without incurring new financial obligations to freelance contributors to the original publications. Organizations such as the National Writers Union argue that publishers generally have no right to do so, absent agreement with (and compensation to) the freelancers. The publishers' point of view prevailed in U.S. District Court, but the "freelancer" position won the day in the U.S. Court of Appeals, setting the stage for the pending Supreme Court resolution. MPA has filed a "friend of the court" brief strongly supporting the publishers' interpretation of the law. The Supreme Court's decision is expected later this spring. Meanwhile, in a separate but related matter, on March 22nd the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals dealt a blow to publishers by ruling that the National Geographic Society did not have the right to reproduce back issues of its magazine on CD-ROM without the permission of (and without extra compensation for) the freelance contributors to those issues. Interpreting the same provision of copyright law that is in dispute in the Tasini case, the Eleventh Circuit judges came down hard against the National Geographic's fundamental argument that the disputed provision permitted the magazine to do the CD-ROM reproduction without getting freelancers' permission or incurring additional financial obligations to them--a position strongly supported by MPA in a friend-of-the-court brief. The National Geographic Society, which now is assessing its legal options, will continue to have MPA's full support as its case moves forward. Certainly, the Supreme Court's upcoming decision in Tasini will have a large impact on the ultimate outcome of the National Geographic case. We will keep you apprised as these critically important cases unfold.

 

 

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